Nov 28 2004
The Christmas Revels
Celebrating Traditions of the Winter Solstice
by Guide John Maihos
If you think Christmas is all about shopping and fighting the crowds
at the malls, you might have found a new tradition, or lost an old one.
Without a doubt, a visit to the Sanders Theatre to see The Christmas
Revels, will bring you back to the traditions of your culture, and
the winter solstice. The Revels are a rare reminder of Christmas past.
In 1971, The Christmas Revels began in Cambridge, Massachusetts with
two shows. Now, they offer eighteen shows here, and are acted out
in eleven other cities across the country. The Sanders Theatre in
Memorial Hall on the campus of Harvard University remains the home
of the original production. The theatre is as much a part of the
tradition as the theme.
Audience participation is a tradition of the Revels. There is
singing and dancing, and actors engage people throughout the show.
People greeted each other like friends and family, even though it
was evident that they only knew each other from prior-year shows. The
thousand-plus people all seemed to have a connection.
The 2002 show focused on the traditions of the Armenian people through
the ages. The stage was draped with beautiful carpets, and performers
were dressed in period garb, and played period instruments. The songs
were in Armenian, including many of the ones that the audience joined
in on. The quick language lesson by song-leader, David Coffin, was
enough to create a pleasant chorus.
The 80-member cast of both professional and amateurs actors,
conveyed the holiday spirit and traditions of Armenia through folk
tales, music and dance. The narrator, Paula Plum, tied all the scenes
together and interacted well with the other actors and the audience.
The scenes with children were especially heart-warming and humorous.
Another highlight of the show was Sayat Nova, the “King of Songs,”
played by Haig Faniants. His voice brought the language to life,
even for those who understood no Armenian.
Past themes have included Nordic/Scandinavian, with a focus on
creation myths, and music and dance from Finland, Iceland, Norway
and Karelia. The Victorian England show reflected the many Christmas
elements that were reinstituted and rediscoverd during that era.
Their Celtic shows have highlighted different regions, including
Ireland, Wales, and most recently, Brittanny. Other themes include
Italian Renaissance, Tudor England and Mesoamerican. A Scottish
production is in the works. The original Revels theme, and still the
favorite, is Medieval English.
Whatever culture The Revels bring to stage is researched thoroughly,
involves local descendants, and when applicable, includes on-site
trips to distant lands. It is their goal to preserve traditional folk
music, songs, dances, rituals, poetry, and folk plays from cultures
around the globe. They have a full line of 19 seasonal recordings,
three songbooks, and many other educational materials, any of which
would make a great holiday gift.